Volume 85 Issue 11 | p. 39 | Inside Instrumentation
Issue Date: March 12, 2007

Inside Instrumentation

Equipment makers offer lab asset management services to assist customers
Department: Science & Technology
Credit: Gail Porter/NIST
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Credit: Gail Porter/NIST

Instrumentation manufacturers are taking care of business-their customers' business. In a world fraught with globalization and rationalization, research-based companies heavily invested in laboratory equipment are turning to suppliers for help in managing these lab assets. Long-standing providers of asset management services, such as Thermo Fisher Scientific, and newer entrants, such as Beckman Coulter, see the need growing among pharmaceutical and chemical industry customers.

These customers are confronting market dynamics that include consolidation, cost pressures, and supply-chain issues, explains Ed Noe, Thermo Fisher Scientific vice president and general manager for asset management services. On top of all this, research-based firms must deal with specialized technologies and diverse equipment from a range of vendors installed at sites around the world. In response, asset management services have evolved beyond simple equipment repair to encompass equipment monitoring, utilization management, data handling, and documentation.

At the most basic level, equipment still needs to be serviced. Researchers must have functioning instruments, but they don't want the headaches of unproductive maintenance work. Even more so, companies want to optimize use and workflows across projects, labs, and sites. This includes setting priorities for the operation of critical instruments as well as redeploying or disposing of underutilized equipment.

"It's a major problem to accurately track an asset base and know down to an individual level how those assets are being used," Noe says. It's even more challenging to disseminate this information across a large user community.

Thermo Fisher has just introduced an integrated "3D Model" as part of its Lifecycle Enterprise services. Using the new approach, Thermo Fisher will customize a program after assessing a company's needs and business goals, operating environment, and equipment mix.

"Our customers have become much more sophisticated in looking at the total cost of ownership from acquisition all the way through to disposition," Noe says. But cost control, he adds, has to be balanced with improved productivity and ensured compliance to quality or regulatory standards.

Craig Cole, strategic operations manager at Beckman Coulter, agrees. "It's fairly easy to cut costs, but saving money while maintaining or improving service levels is the bigger challenge," he says. "In some situations, customers have already cut costs to the point where service levels have suffered, and now they're looking to maintain costs but improve service."

In January, Beckman Coulter launched SiteMAX Asset Management Solutions, a customizable instrument maintenance and service program. It promises better equipment performance and guaranteed cost savings of 10-20%. Depending on the scale of an operation, Beckman may put a team on-site to handle administrative and technical duties.

Cole says the approach is about "really aggressively managing the installed base for the customer" to maximize uptime and usage. And this entails taking responsibility not only for Beckman Coulter-made equipment but also that from other manufacturers. Meanwhile, many other manufacturers, such as Waters, Applied Biosystems, and PerkinElmer, offer competing asset management services.

Thermo Fisher says its program can increase efficiency and reduce costs by 12-20% or several million dollars per year. The company has 28 years of asset management experience in the health care sector and today also serves 12 major drug companies, two biotech leaders, and four top chemical companies. Its customer contracts cover $2.6 billion worth of assets or 33,000 different items from nearly 1,000 different vendors.

Beyond ensuring that equipment is up and running, asset management services can also help companies through transitions. "Companies that are undergoing growth or consolidation need to manage the inventory of equipment that is available or that can be redeployed or put into surplus," Cole explains.

Along these lines, PerkinElmer recently added a feature to its OneSource asset management services focused specifically on relocation needs. The new service involves testing and inspecting all equipment before a laboratory move and then handling shipping, setup, and requalification at a new site.

On the face of it, asset management would appear to work best for large-scale operations and companies. When working with multinational companies, the challenge for asset managers is being able to match their capabilities to the customer's global footprint, Noe explains, something that large international instrumentation suppliers believe they are well-positioned to do.

Nevertheless, Noe also sees opportunities for smaller or midsized companies to work with outside parties if they expand the scope beyond just equipment maintenance. For instance, with the acquisition of Fisher Scientific, Noe says Thermo Fisher can now manage a company's entire stockroom needs, including reagents, consumables, chemicals, and other lab supplies, as well as equipment and instrumentation assets.

Both Cole and Noe stress the importance of providing measurable results to their customers. This includes vendor-neutral data on service and product performance. "One of the key things that a really good asset management program does is provide the customer with accurate, quality information with which they can make very good business decisions," Noe says.

 

This Inside Instrumentation was written by Ann M. Thayer. Contact her via e-mail to instrumentation@acs.org.

 
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